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Coping with forage shortfalls

The continuing hot weather and lack of rain has created serious issues with forage shortages on farms across the UK. Grass growth has slowed down or even stopped in many areas. This has led to a shortage of feed with many herds already using this year’s first cut silage stocks, impacting on winter feed availability.

Managing grazing and silage acres in these conditions, as well as calculating existing forage stocks and putting contingency plans in place for future demand, is crucial to ensure there is not a long-term impact on your business.

Afbeelding: forage stock calculations

Forage stock calculations

Knowing how much grass and silage you have available will influence feeding strategies now and into the autumn/winter, and any purchased feed buying decisions.

For a grazing system make sure you know how much grass you have available for cows, their demand and grass growth rates in order to plan your grazing policy.

Assessing tonnes of available silage is crucial in order to avoid a shortfall this winter, particularly if clamps have already been opened due to grass shortages. An easy calculation, shown below, can be used to work out the total volume of your silage clamp:

Volume = Length (L) x Width (W) x Height (H)

Estimate how many tonnes of silage your clamps are holding by using the following calculation, along with the forage density table provided above.

Tonnes = volume x density (see table) / 1000

Forage Quality

It is also important that you know the feed value of your silage as differences in quality necessitate changes in feeding. By understanding the nutritional content of the silage supplementary feeding with concentrates can be carried out in a much more targeted and efficient way.

Having silage analysed on a regular basis, using the Dry NIR service (SilageManager) will ensure that rations can be fine-tuned and reflect ongoing variations in the quality of silage.

Grazing

For farms on a grazing-based system the issue is an immediate one, with the lack of grass growth in hot, dry weather. The problem is balancing the demand of the cows with what is available. Providing alternative forage or feedstuff, and extending the rotation means that you are intervening now in order to reduce the likelihood of a grass shortfall across the whole season.

Stop topping grazing paddocks as this allows the sun in and burns up the remaining grass. Under normal conditions grazing tight will help grass regrowth and quality, but under such dry conditions it will mean very slow growth even when it does begin to rain again.

Tightly grazing paddocks reduces the grass’s energy stores in the root and as it has no leaf to photosynthesise it takes longer for the plant to recover. During all grazing the aim is to leave a reasonable residual as it affects the plant’s energy store in the root. This supports the plant during regrowth when there is little leaf available to capture sunlight and photosynthesise. If grass is too tightly grazed in hot, dry weather it is inevitable that some pasture/grass plant death will occur with the combination of no energy in the root, no leaf and no water.

Ensure grass residuals are not taken too low by providing alternative feed. When the rain does return you want a healthy grass plant to start growing again quickly.